I spent last weekend in Arkansas with my sisters Rhonda and Deanna. We decided that we were going to spend what would have been Dad’s 74th birthday there. Our trip was wonderful; we spent lots of time together and loved it.
Our adventures started on Thursday evening, we got on the road after 9 and drove until around 1:30. We got to Perryville, Missouri where we got a hotel and slept for a few hours. We were up and on the road again before 6. We were adamant that we were going to make it to North Central Arkansas by 10.
We didn’t make it at 10 but did arrive in Russellville, Arkansas around 11:30. We were going to Russellville to surprise Dad’s best friend JT. JT owns a furniture store in Russellville however he was going out of town that afternoon so we wanted to make sure that we were able to see him since we were going to be so close.
We walked into the store and JT was in the back office, he took his time coming out not realizing at first who we were. The look on his face when he realized who we were was priceless as were the tears in his eyes. It’s not often that a grown man is surprised so much that it brings tears to his eyes. We had a wonderful visit, JT and Dad were friends for 50 years and they shared MANY adventures and from the sounds of it caused TONS of trouble. JT’s wife, Pat and his daughter Cathy came down to the store and visited with us for a while also. It was nice catching up with them and hearing what they were doing these days. They had plans for the weekend and were planning on leaving later in the afternoon so we didn’t want to interfere with their plans so we decided it was time to head out. Of course JT wanted to extend his southern hospitality and take us to dinner and wanted us to join them for the evening. We declined and left with hugs and promises to keep in touch.
It was so nice seeing him and some of his family, catching up with people that truly are just like our family. They were there for Dad in times that we couldn’t be and we appreciate that beyond what words could ever say.
We continued out of town and back to north eastern Arkansas where our hotel was. We encountered some crazy weather. It rained very hard and the ground was so hot from the extreme heat that it caused a fog to form. We pulled off and had some lunch and got back on the road. Our couple hour trip ended up lasting a couple hours more. I have to give props to both Rhonda and Deanna because they drove in the crazy weather, I didn’t want any part of it. None the less we did make it to the hotel and relaxed for a moment before we headed out to get flowers and stuff that we needed for the next day. I believe that we turned in around 10.
Saturday was Dad’s birthday and we knew that we wanted to go to the Pecan Orchard. We went out and got balloons to release and headed to Parkin. We drove through the town and were saddened to see so many houses destroyed by fires and mischief. We reminisced about times with Dad and Grandma. We talked of relatives and times that we spent in Parkin.
We drove down the country road that lead to the Pecan Orchard and were saddened to find a “no trespassing keep out” sign posted and the road closed off. Now if you know us, you know that we didn’t stop and turn around. Rhonda says “it looks like someone has driven around the sign, I bet I can too”, she then reverses and we see that there is a big drop off that would prevent us from taking that route. So she once again drives forward past the posted sign and screams “OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THERE IS A RED TRUCK COMING BEHIND ME!” This red truck came up to the side of the car and kind of cuts us off. There in the red truck is a man that asks “Are you ladies lost?” We tell him no and explain that our Dad used to run the Pecan Orchard and that today was his birthday, we had traveled from Illinois and had wanted to go to the orchard. We tell him we want to cause no trouble and he says “Oh I know let me get the road opened and you guys can follow me up but be careful the road hasn’t been taken care of.” We thanked him and screamed in delight.
The road heading back to the Orchard wasn’t as bad as it was the last time that Deanna and I had gone back with Dad. The grass was high in the middle where the trucks hadn’t knocked it down yet. But going slow and off to the side a bit Rhonda made it back just fine following behind the red truck. We approached the Orchard and the red truck pulled off and went off into the field behind, we drove into the orchard. It was beautiful, it took our breath away. The lawn was mowed and the trees were nice and green! The tears formed and the car was silent as we drove in. We sat in silence and stared in awe. This was the land that Dad had loved! There was an overwhelming sense of peace, the birds were chirping and the sky was bright blue.
We then got out of the car and took a few pictures; we talked of the absolutely beautiful scene that we were standing in. Soon after we got out the balloons that we had brought with us, this is something we do on his birthday; we release balloons in the air for him…Happy Birthday, Dad! We love you and Miss you! And we release them, watching them float up in the sky, taking our message with them. We spent time in the orchard taking pictures of the trees and the few pecans that were actually on the trees, doesn’t look like a good year for pecans. The red truck had already come back to check if we were still there once so we decided that we should leave, we were very appreciative of all the time we had there already. We drove back down the road and sat at the end of the road waiting for the red truck to come back down so that we could thank him. It took awhile but we were able to thank him and he offered us some water and asked if we wanted something to eat. We declined and told him that he had totally made our trip. The guy in the red truck never told us his name, but he was definitely an angel to us.
Our next stop was the cemetery where Grandma Agnes is buried at. She is buried amongst her family and close by is a beautiful tree that Rhonda fell in love with, this tree had awesome bright pink flowers on it and we later found out that it is a Great Myrtle tree. Grandma would love this tree and the flowers on it. We then released balloons for Grandma, two balloons a red star and a smiley face. These balloons seemed to intertwine in the air, they didn’t rise up and float high in the sky, they seemed to hang low and relatively close by. We watched them as we paid our respects to the graves of the other family members. We got in the car to leave as we watched these balloons; it just seemed odd that they weren’t far gone yet. As we got in the car they seemed to start rising, still hanging together, the smiley face was slightly ahead, with the star looking down. Once we got out on the road heading back into town, the balloons started going higher, they seemed to start to separate. The farther away we got the higher the balloons got and then the star seemed to take the lead and then all at once they were up in the sky and we lost sight of them. It was symbolic to us; like Grandma and Dad, Grandma being the smiley face and Dad the star. Neither would have wanted to leave us, Grandma kind of holding on to Dad until we were leaving and then Dad saying to Grandma that it was ok and taking her on up to the sky. Separate but together. We miss them beyond words. The years do not make it easier but I guess maybe we handle it better as the years go on.
Our morning was very eventful and extremely successful. We spent the rest of the morning photographing various different parts of Parkin, places Dad or Grandma lived, the Church where Dad’s service was, places that Dad went to and where is stores had been.
We went to lunch in Marion and encountered another oddity when while sitting and eating out of NO WHERE the radio/stereo blared…Jo Dee Messina’s song “I’m Alright”. The only thing that played was “I'm all, I'm all, I'm alright
It's a beautiful day not a cloud in sight so I guess I'm doin' alright.” That was it, it then went silent. Odd! Maybe a message sent from above? It happened two more times again only small phrases, one saying something about leaving her at the store (Dad had a store) and the other one was a gospel sounding song, none of us knew that song however we were all struck at how odd it seemed that only these songs played and for only a small phrase.
After lunch we went to visit two family members still living in Parkin. Doris was the wife of Pete Smith, he was my Dad’s cousin and he and Dad were very close and similar in many ways. It truly broke my Dad’s heart to lose Pete, it happened while Pete was driving the truck and Dad was a passenger. I don’t think Dad was ever the same again after that incident. He had to take gain control of the truck after Pete said “Ol, I can’t see.” Doris told us how Dad came in and told her what happened. She said that he came in and stood in the kitchen not saying anything until Doris asked “Oliver, where’s my Pete.” Dad said, “He died on me Doris.” It was nice visiting with Doris but we had at least one more stop on the agenda so we parted, saying I love you and telling her to take care.
Flo was Dad’s distant cousin; they had coffee together every day while he lived in Parkin. She was such a close friend to him; she came to the hospital with us during Dad’s surgery. We surprised her 100% she had no idea we would be the ones ringing her doorbell. We visited with her and reminisced of times with Dad. She truly is an amazing woman. We enjoyed visiting with her for a while but left so that we could get back to the hotel and get ready for the trip back home. As we were leaving we had a surprise run in with Bobby, Bobby worked for my Dad. He was sitting in a truck and Rhonda recognized him so we went back and said hi. He was surprised that we remembered him; we left him telling him to stay out of trouble. Then it was off to the highway to head out of town and towards Wynne. We spent the evening in Forrest City getting our stuff together and the car ready for the trip back home. We called it a night after watching a movie and having some ice cream. JT called us to check up on us and to find out if we were able to see the Orchard.
Sunday we got up and headed back home…pretty uneventful trip home other than me getting stopped and having to donate some money to the State of Missouri. What can I say…we were already to be home! That alone could not take away from us the wonderful trip that we had. We didn’t expect to have things fall into place so well. That has rarely happened on our many, many trips to Arkansas.
That was our trip we laughed, cried and we remembered our Dad. The Dad that loved us, that helped us to be the people we are today. Our Dad was not a perfect man, I will not lie to you. I bet that not many people are perfect though. Oliver F. Wooten was our Dad, we miss him and we love him. The Orchard is something I want! I want that land, my husband says but we live here, what will you do with it? My answer: I don’t know but I have never in my life experienced such peace in one place. I leave you with a quote:
You can shed tears that he is gone,
or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that he'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all he's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see him,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him only that he is gone,
or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what he'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
Our Dad would want us to smile, open our eyes, love and go on!